• 59°

Booty nearly rallies Browns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans couldn't have started their preseason much better, and Kelly Holcomb may have nudged ahead of Tim Couch in the latest round of Cleveland's quarterback competition.

Eddie George ran for a touchdown and Joe Nedney kicked a 22-yard field goal as the Titans held off the Browns 10-6 Saturday night in the exhibition opener for both teams.

The Browns nearly rallied to win behind Josh Booty who found Marc Soumah in the end zone in the final minute. But officials ruled the pass incomplete even though a replay showed Soumah may have gotten his hands under the ball.

Coach Jeff Fisher called it classic Titans football.

''We had about 200 yards passing, 100 yards rushing, some dumb penalties, and we won at the end,'' he said. ''It was good to put ourselves in position to evaluate the young guys at the end. Their personalities came alive, and they wanted to win the game.''

McNair and the Titans opened the game with a 15-play, 72-yard drive capped by George's 1-yard TD run. McNair was nearly perfect on the drive, completing six of his first nine passes and even showed midseason form as he shook off Cleveland end Kenard Lang.

Both McNair and George left after two series with McNair 7-of-10 for 61 yards and George rushing seven times for 24 yards.

Couch, the top pick in the 1999 draft, didn't look very good as he played the first three series. The Browns moved the ball only 9 yards in the first quarter, going three-and-out on the first two series. Couch even fell once coming out from center, although he avoided a sack by scrambling out of bounds.

He rebounded by completing his next four passes before Andre King dropped one, and Phil Dawson kicked a 26-yard field goal. Couch finished 4-for-8 for 17 yards.

''Certainly, Tim got the lion's share of Tennessee's first-team defense,'' Cleveland coach Butch Davis said. ''He got Samari Rolle and all their No. 1 corners.''

Davis has promised to make this competition for the starting job as equal as possible, and he pointed out that Holcomb went up against the Titans' second- and third-team corners. Holcomb came in with 7:28 left in the second with a pair of rookies at safety.

Holcomb found King on the right sideline for a 20-yard completion with 4 seconds left to set up Dawson's second field goal, a 51 yarder to pull Cleveland within 7-6 at the end of the half. Holcomb was 7-of-11 for 71 yards.

Booty didn't fare much better either for the Browns. Brad Kassell, who is trying to become the Titans' starting middle linebacker, intercepted Booty's pass intended for C.J. Jones with 4:45 to go in the third.

But Booty came back in for Nate Hybl with 1:42 left, and he immediately found Antoine Burns on a 60-yard completion to the Titans 6. That got the Titans' defensive starters chanting ''Defense'' on the sideline, and the unit, filled with rookies and undrafted free agents, held on.

Davis, who already had lost two challenges of his own, wasn't happy that officials did not review the play.

''It should have been you know because I think it was caught, and that was kind of an issue with all of the reviews tonight. I don't think they used a whole lot of cameras in some of these preseason games,'' Davis said.

The Titans had to play the entire game with rookie Donnie Nickey at free safety in place of Lance Schulters. Schulters had an emergency root canal Monday and has been bothered by it the past two days. Nickey played well, hitting Couch hard on a blitz in the first quarter.

The exhibition also featured Justin Hartwig's debut at center for the Titans with veteran Tom Ackerman out after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He was late on one snap, but none went awry.

Notes: Titans CB Andre Woolfolk, their top draft pick in April, dislocated his left big toe in the second quarter. X-rays did not show a fracture, but he will have an MRI on Sunday. … Fisher said Schulters likely will undergo testing because of the complications from his root canal. … The Browns lost their exhibition opener for the first time since returning to the NFL in 1999. They are just 1-8 on the road in the preseason in that time. … Fisher wasn't very happy with his defensive line. They jumped offsides repeatedly, including once when all four went too early.